A Travellerspoint blog


<fast forwards life>

View test trip for overload peter on Gelli's travel map.

Ok, so that clearly didn't work.

I'm not still in Canada. It is not still June. In fact, it's 20-bl**dy-13, and i'm sat in a Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn watching the aftermath of snowmageddon/snopocalypse/nero. Not the fish one.

Although I expect zero people to believe it, I had written most of the next maybe half dozen posts. But at various points life, the will to life and just, well, stuff got in the way. For all our sakes, I think it is will make more sense if I just call it quite there although I will try and recycle some bits later. You will see why.

It is now time to fast forward, so let's summarise everything after Montreal.

I got the train back to New York. Couple of weeks there with weekend in Washington DC in between. Travel companion arrives from Europe. Luggage does not. 3 days mad shopping for clothes in NYC. Then back onto boat, and a pretty good week back to Europe. No, I did not get up at 5am to watch Southampton IKEA approach. Then Sweden, assorted work, Spain and Portugal (yes you read that correctly. I finally made it to Portugal for the first time for a few days, and caught up with Morten – of the Landy project for those with very long memories), the Olympics (yay!), Travel-companions bags finally reappear in Europe, but no compensation. Work, Finland and pink fingernails, the Paralympics (even yay-er). More Sweden and more work. Increasing farce. Ice-cream soup, celebrating a year of being homeless, the arrival of the armadillo, a last minute change of Christmas followed by an interesting New Year in Berlin. Then a few days running around the UK, collect new travel companions, and get back on the boat. The Queen Victoria, this time. With weather so balmy that a week on the North Atlantic in winter involved more time on the balcony/outside than both previous trips combined, and as I am not healthier, wiser, and more frequent traveller, including barely feasible amounts of free champagne. A good trip, unless you happen to be my camera, which was not so happy. Few days of great sightseeing and stuff, and now i'm all alone again.

But I'm back in New York, and this time, probably, hopefully, maybe, more permanently.

I'm naturally still homeless. But i'm working on solving that one.

What comes now is likely to be limited in scope, but hopefully will involve reasonably regular updates of this poor lost Welshman, being wide-eyed and cynical and exploring the wonders of New York City and it's environs. Actually, you probably won't hear from me again until mid 2014 when I happen to stuck randomly on the Kermadoc islands and remember I have a blog. But i'll try. Promise?

Posted by Gelli 17:56 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Conspicuous consumption


I have been in America for a few weeks now* and have yet to really consume. I have yet to take part in stereotypical American life. Americans consume. Their entire life and culture is based around consumption of “stuff”. In theory, good stuff. And New York, more than probably anywhere on the planet consumes. But so far I have not had a single burger, pizza, hotdog, cheesecake, budweiser or even a bagel. I haven't been into a McDonalds, have barely seen a Burger King and don't recall even seeing a KFC or Wendy's. I haven't been to Macy's, Sears, Bloomingdales or even a Mall; used a soda fountain, taken the Staten Island ferry, been up the Empire State Building, visited the Statue of Liberty or any other of the doubtless hundreds of everyday American or touristy things. Heck, despite a few days in New York City I haven't even seen a single rat yet. I have used Starbucks, yes, but more because they have toilets and free wifi. Now back in Buffalo after my roadtrip and finally feeling human enough, I think I am now alive enough that it is time to consume. New York City is calling again. So it is time to experience America as Americans do. Time to eat.

In fact, I had probably only really done one typical thing: visiting Walmart. If you ignore the one whose car-park I slept, whilst out wandering in the Adirondacks one day I had come across a town – Plattsburgh – near the Canadian border and on spying a large Walmart, had stopped to use the toilet and get a couple of things: some bread and 2 banana's. It was a Super Walmart or Mega Walmart or a Maxi-Humungous-All Conquering Walmart. Or something. It was fascinating. Both the huge variety of things in the store, but also some of the customers (and staff). I saw a handful of people who were so, erm, generously proportioned (read: really, really fat) that just their standing up appeared to simultaneously defy the laws of both physics and gravity. The fact that they were walking (albeit slowly, and in cases, looking very painful to their backs) was truly mind-boggling to me.

And then there were the options of goods to buy. The choice of, to take one example, cheese, was incredible. The amount of pre-packaged or pre-prepared cheese in that one store was more cheese than I ever seen in one place at one time before, and I have even been to cheese factories in the past. There was a decent selection of varieties, but I was struck more by the sheer number of brands of cheese available. Row upon row of large packs of grated cheese – either one sort of cheese, or a blend of 3 or 4 – were there to be chosen. But the actual options in terms of type of cheese or blend was relatively small (maybe 20-30). But for each of those blends, there was a choice of up to 50 brands. All of cheddar. And I can't help wonder how anybody would ever taste all of them to make an informed choice.

I was also bemused, if not surprised, by the inability to buy “small” portions or things. Such as a single soda or a beer. There were lots of micro breweries in the region, and I thought that it could be nice to try 2 or 3 local brews. In the fridge were cans of Budweiser, Miller, Molson etc of sizes ranging from roughly 1 pint to 5 pints. But no real beers. On the shelves were numerous sorts of real beers, but the smallest pack size was 16. I just wanted 2 or 3 single bottles, but that appeared to be an impossibility. So I changed tack, and decided to just get some coke. Here, my options again seemed to be bottles of 1litre up to vats containing enough coke to fill a medium sized swimming pool, or packs of small bottles which started at 24bottles. I just wanted 1 or 2 small bottles (litre bottles being too big to fit in a cup-holder in a car), but I ended up having to go across the road to a gas station and use a drinks machine to get them. It just seemed odd.

So overwhelmed was I by the choice and experience that my 5 minute stop off lasted well over an hour. I wandered isles with a look on my face which probably immediately marked me down as an alien (if, in fact, my skinny size did not – I was the smallest person I saw in the store by some distance), picking up and looking at all sorts of interesting – or depressing – foods stuffs, and then exploring the 'other' stuff in the store. By the time I came outside, I just had to stand in the car park for a few moments in amazement and wonder. Or something. I am already looking forward to potentially having to move over here more permanently, and doing my first ever grocery shop.

It was almost overwhelming. On second thoughts, perhaps I will wait a couple more weeks before I start to consume. Consumption is scary. I'll go back to Canada instead.

* yes, I know that the last couple of days have actually been in Canada. But it's all the same place really (ducks, and runs off to hide)


Posted by Gelli 04:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

West becomes North

And 95 becomes 55

all seasons in one day 36 °C

Though great to see the Isa's, my week continued to unravel. The fact they had 6 indoor cats and about 900 outdoor ones didn't mesh well with my cat-allergicness. The discovery that the only thing on my list remaining to do – go to Chicago – during my week's road-trip would not really be that viable also didn't help. For the second time in less than 2 weeks, Mr. Obama was in my way. This time, he was hosting a NATO summit in down town Chicago. 2 days of high level talks is good. Most of down town Chicago being a no-go area, the prime museum area being completely sealed off for security reasons, and hoards of protesters protesting virtually every conceivable complaint was not so good. For me, anyway.

I needed a new plan.

So I decided s*d it. I perused my map a bit, counted available days until I needed to be back in Buffalo, and decided to go North. Chicago, I figure, I can visit in future, and will be easier without having to find somewhere to leave a car anyway. Doing a grand loop around the great lakes is not so easy without transport.

Little Germany or Little Switzerland or something. There were cows and Swiss chalets, but sadly no mountains

I drove through Switzerland, which confused me as I was in Wisconsin. Then I passed through Madison, whereupon I stumbled across the US Capitol Building, something I was not expecting 1000miles away from Washington DC. It was built that way for one of about 3 dozen different reasons depending upon who you ask, none of which really convince me as being the complete truth. Wisconsin was showing it's propensity to surprise me, despite essentially just being a large area of cheese. I drove onwards, past the wonderfully named Oshkosk and then Green Bay, home of the Packers football team, both the smallest and most obscure home for any professional American sports team.


Late in the afternoon, on a straight road in the middle of the forest, I changed back from Central time to Eastern time. I had naively assumed that this would occur at the state border, but oh no. It appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Though it is probably at a county border, I found it just a little odd, especially as it means that just a small corner of Michigan is in Central time whilst the rest is Eastern, but that the time zone border is not North-South as would be logical, but rather a jagged East-West line. Why? Good question, though not one so good that I have yet to get around to checking wikipedia or googling.


I had booked a night in Escanaba, for no other reason than it was the only place which obviously had rooms available at a price I could afford and was not a Walmart parking lot. After a glorious day and lots of empty straight roads, pretty much as soon as I got to town and was starting to have to look at all the signs in the hunt for the correct one, the heavens opened. It was not unexpected, as the sky had rapidly gone a very evil shade of dark grey. The golf sized hailstones were not fun though, especially as I had found my hotel and a 10metre dash into the lobby to check in. I was drenched. When it stopped raining 10minutes later, the town was mostly flooded. I swam to a nearby supermarket, bought some cheap ramen noodles and bread for dinner, and went and hid in my second floor room for the evening, watching random items float past at ground level.

When I left the following morning, much of the water had gone and the skies were again clear. But it was over 40 degrees cooler - 94 having been replaced by 52 - and my shorts were rapidly replaced by longs and even my fleece got it's first usage since the day of my arrival.

I'm still not sure if this is an advert or somebody just had the hots for the car's driver and had to improvise

The only specific thing that I had planned to do on this leg of the trip was take a ferry out to Mackinac Island, somewhere I remember reading about several years ago, and thought would be nice for a wander. However I arrived to discover that I had missed the ferry by 10 minutes, and because it was not summer season yet, the next one was not for a couple of hours. I pondered it, mooched town, then slightly sadly decided to press on. I still had a long way to go.

Posted by Gelli 17:16 Archived in USA Tagged roadtrip Comments (1)

It's only 768 miles to Walmart

It's a title best sung to the tune of 24hours to Tulsa. Or just sleep through the entire entry. You know it makes sense.

sunny 34 °C

It was a last minute decision. I had had a few easy days, and on the Wednesday afternoon after faffing for a while, I had decided to do something and promptly gone to sit on the toilet. That, apparently, was enough for me. But a little later, I had swung into action: after a brief comparison of likely costs and then pretty much on a whim doing something that hadn't even occurred to me until 10 minutes prior, I booked a car for a week. Barely 2hours later I had been dropped at Buffalo International Airport to collect it.

My conversation with the rental rep had gone (this is a very condensed version of a 15minute discussion) approximately as follows:

Him: (looking at my Swedish driving licence). So, where are you from? Singapore?
Me: Wales, but my licence is from Sweden
Him: Cool. I love Dr. Who, and it is filmed in Wales.
Me: Yes, I think it is. It's a pretty good show, but I don't watch it much as I don't have a TV
Him: (insert 5minute excited ramble about David Tennant here)
Me: [waits patiently, offering only an occasional grunt to the conversation]
Him: Ok, here you go. I have given you a triple-upgrade for free. I love Dr. Who.
Me: Erm. Ok. Great, Yes. Thanks. You should watch some of the older Doctors.
Him: You mean there has been more than one series? (insert another 5 minute ramble about David Tennant here)
Me: Erm. Yes. Thanks for the upgrade. It's getting late [it was 11pm], and I better be going
Him: Sure. Drive safely. I love Dr. Who. Do you know David Tennant?
Me: (runs for door)

And so it was that I ended up with a larger, comfier but inevitably less fuel efficient Ford Fusion.

The following morning, I headed West. Yes, it is becoming a theme, but there is allot of West out there. I had just a vague idea. A couple of friends to drop in on and surprise visit, a day or two in Chicago, and a short trip to St. Louis for work combined with a leisurely drive back through the countryside. The car would give me options, and a week was a decent amount of time. 6 hours or so in and it started unravelling. My friend in South Bend who had just finished her Thesis at Notre Dame had neglected to tell me that she was instantly flying off to New York City to party/celebrate. Her (drunk and horribly hungover) room-mate told me that I had missed her by about 2hours, but in a tone of voice that simultaneously left me in no doubts of her meaning and scared the living hell out of me, suggested that I stay with her instead so we could 'have some fun for the weekend'.

I wrote a note for my friend and left, rapidly.

2.5 hours and an extensive tour of Gary, Indiana, (a town of 100,000 of no real relevance, except that it is 25miles to Chicago and also the birthplace of Michael Jackson and most of his siblings) later, I finally tracked down their house to discover that my friends there had gone AWOL. A Finnish-Slovakian couple, I had figured that dropping by would be good to say hello and watch the hockey with the following morning (both Finland and Slovakia were playing in World Championship semi-finals), but the neighbours hadn't seen them for a couple of days and had no idea where they were. Neither phone was being answered. I assumed they were probably semi-comatose in some bar still celebrating the Quarter final victories.

So I left a note, and continued on my merry way.

I stopped at a roadside service area for a coffee and to ponder my next move. I logged onto the interweb-thingy, and discovered that there was no longer any point in my going to St. Louis - the guy I needed to see had to go to Anchorage on Monday morning. Ah. Ok. That pretty much decided me, and so I got back in the car and continued heading West.

When I got to the middle of nowhere Illinois, it was already well after 9pm and getting very dark. Despite the village i required not even appearing on my road atlas, I found Dakota reasonably easily. After driving every road in town and not finding a suitable one, I went to a gas station and asked. Six confused people and sets of opposing directions later, one pulled out an iphone and at the third attempt, found the address I wanted about 6miles out of town down a dirt track. He gave me directions, and off I set.

And thus it was that after a day long drive of 768miles, I discovered they were also out and I was stuck in the absolute middle of nowhere.

For the third time that day, I wrote and left a note. I was by now running out of usable paper.

I pondered my options none of which were overly appealing. It was late, and I was in the middle of nowhere. I pondered staying put and just falling asleep in the car, but I was not 100% sure I was at the correct address and didn't fancy waking up to an irate shotgun wielding farmer complaining that I was trespassing. I thought of finding an empty stretch of country road and parking there, or going back into the nearest town – Freeport – and finding a motel. Approximately, that is what I did, except when I arrived in Freeport it was 23:30, the few motels i saw looked uninviting and I decided that perhaps I should save money. And so I found the inevitable 24hour Walmart, with it's large empty car-park, chose a corner where the floodlights did not affect me too much, stretched out on the back seat and fell asleep there.

The following morning, I was eating breakfast when the phone rang, excitedly. My note had miraculously been found. I should go back. And so I did. To Dakota. Not Gary or Notre Damn. I haven't seen Isa & Beerman since Dublin, several years ago and it was great to catch up, notwithstanding the temperatures were already into the 90's at 8am and they have cats. Lots of cats. A friendly animal to which I am sadly allergic. But a happy relaxing day was spent, even more so when you understand that Beerman is chief brewmaster for a Wisconsin brewery. And thus there were tasters to hand.

Posted by Gelli 07:12 Archived in USA Tagged people driving roadtrip Comments (1)

Novelty value: Let's go West

sunny 28 °C

After a brief trip back to New York City to catch up with a visiting colleague (eg: prove I still exist, discover If I am still employed. That sort of thing), I headed West. Normally in the world, I head East. East is new, foreign, potentially exciting. I have never really been West before, anywhere. Except maybe Cornwall, and that doesn't really count. So I was looking forward to experiencing this West thing.

I took an Amtrak to Buffalo-Exchange, which turned out to be a small building with a heavily cracked and uneven pavement built underneath a concrete underpass. Yes, as miserable as it sounds. I had taken the train partly out of a wish for variety (not another bus), and partly because the tracks run right alongside the Hudson for the first hours and I had hoped for a scenic ride. It wasn't bad.

A friend of an old friend was picking me up, but all I had was a name 'Von'. I had no idea if it was male or female, black or white. Once I arrived and realised that it was a small station and only a dozen people got off, so I would let them disperse and Von would be the person left. Cunning. Except that everybody left. Hmmm. So I sat on the curb by the locked building in an empty parking lot and waited. I read a free paper about housing (prices are cheap here) and another on cars (which are more expensive than I would have guessed) and was just about to ring Von, when I received a message 'are you at the bus station yet?'. “Ah-ha!” I thought – though not in the Norwegian sense – that explains a great deal. We exchanged messages, whereupon I was asked where the station was. Hmmm. “you are the one who lives in this ******* city!” I thought. But soon we had worked it out, and I was sat in a flat in Elmwood, a nice suburb of Buffalo, where a nice, period, large 3 bedroom flat with porch and all costs significantly less to rent than a single room in a house-share in London.

The following morning, my friend having finished her night shift and slept, and my having wandered the neighbourhood, we caught up for the first time since the happy days of Christmas in Beijing, 7 years previously. Then off we headed, as you do, to Pittsburgh. I had been relaxed on what we did on her two days off, she wanted to visit to go to the Andy Warhol Museum (he is from Pittsburgh). That sounded good to me. I thus received a 2day crash course in 'real' American life, being introduced to assorted food emporiums, provincial American wonders, and asked lots of stupid questions. To many, I discovered, there simply are no answers.

Yes, welcome to America. I'm not sure if i find this more depressing or disturbing!

Pittsbugh skyline, or, at least, bits of it

The bits of the Museum we saw were great. We were, however, kicked out after 90minutes and only 2 (of 6) floors due to a “sewage issue”. Bummer. At least we got our money back. Some assorted wandering later and we headed back to Buffalo. An evening tour of city followed – several beautiful old buildings but a dead city centre area, plus some pretty areas in the suburbs, including several large museums, and a strange sense of loss that can only come from a city whose population has halved in the last 50years, and is still shrinking alarmingly today – before I was introduced to the “man-cave”, a strange and dangerous place owned by my friends landlord, and which seemed to distort the rules of time and could also potentially lead to some serious alcoholism.

I also almost bought a house. In fact, when I awoke, I thought I might have actually done so, but checking back through the paperwork, no, I hadn't. I think. But it was a serious idea. Whilst larger, better condition places in nicer areas were available for the sort of money that I still would be hoping to pay off a mortgage within 5 or 10 years, not 25+ it would take in much of Europe, I had plumped for a cheaper 2 bed flat. Sure, it needed work, but 8,000usd for a decent sized flat in an ok – if not great – area seemed insane to me. In London, you would spend more than that in a year simply by renting a (very) small room in a shared house. It's scary. Now all I need is a job and reason to move to Buffalo...

Posted by Gelli 16:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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